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Innovation

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Jody Allison's picture
VP of Transformation Algonquin Power & Utilities/Liberty

Results-driven business professional with proven success leading teams to meet aggressive operational and strategic goals. Key strengths displayed in operations management, financial acumen...

  • Member since 2020
  • 3 items added with 825 views
  • Apr 14, 2021 1:00 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-04 - Innovation in the Power Industry, click here for more

The energy industry is evolving at a faster rate than ever before. Demands come from a desire to move to more sustainable sources of energy, changing expectations from our customers and the need to spend resources on innovation to understand what is possible. Safety and reliability are a base expectation but also require constant investment.  Making this even more complicated is trying to help people understand what more sustainable sources look like, what the cost of digital personalized experiences means to our customers and how does that correlate to the value and how in a regulated environment do we resource innovation to better understand ways to do things. Someone once told me that if you asked people back in the 1800’s what they needed they would have told you a faster horse when what have been better was a car!  So as a professional in the industry how to we manage all of this?

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Let me start with sustainability. There are choices and people are hearing about a variety of goals from politicians, their local energy and water companies, activists and their kids from school. How are we as an industry preparing our customers to be aware of those options and how they can help do their part? Many times it is challenging to understand what that means to the average consumer and their role in the broader objectives. Why should they care? Why does one choice make sense over another?

For many years, the bulk of investments went into the physical assets to maintain the systems providing the safe and reliable service that is expected. There was little resources made available  to enhance  customer interactions. Now, due to customers experiencing effortless transactions in their daily lives interacting with other companies, they expect us to offer the same options. Giving them transparency and control over their usage and an effortless experience to interact with us. This customer centric approach needs to be driven by the voice of the customer. This means having the right mechanisms to capture that valuable feedback. Entering into a period of time where paper payment processing costs are escalating due to decreased demand, we must also continue to serve the breadth of our communities with all options.  Then add the pandemic which forces the industry to find digital answers long before we had anticipated. Changing our approach to the customer experience is costly and takes investment as well. How much is it worth to our customers?

Last but not least at all is innovation, how do we keep looking forward and make sure that we are responding to the needs for the faster horse but at the same time looking for the opportunity to provide the car? Do we have resources dedicated to this and how do we do this in a regulated environment? For those of us driving transformation, how do we do this? How do we set priorities? How do we keep from getting caught up in technology and losing sight of the people that we serve being the employees and the customers? How do we ensure that the environment is ready for change, or continued evolution.

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Thank Jody for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 14, 2021

Thanks for sharing, Jody-- and if anyone's ears are perked up then stay tuned. Jody is going to join us on an Innovation Month Power Perspectives Podcast episode to discuss at greater length!

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Apr 16, 2021

Interesting article Jody. I noticed you compared the car example a few times. That is perfect since the new Electric vehicles are a huge opportunity for power utilities. Plus the charging infrastructure related to the vehicles is a huge area of growth. The utility needs to be very vocal about how they are the power behind all Fast Charging locations. They also power the wireless telephone industry with thousands of cell sites and hubs.  

    The electric car is the perfect power user. It can be set to charge at any off peak time needed. It can even feed back into the GRID if needed. 

Jody Allison's picture
Jody Allison on May 7, 2021

YEs - That is why I really like that quote so appropriate in so many ways! Algonquin/Liberty has initiatives underway in this area and look forward to our contribution. Check out our Sustainability Report on our website for more information.  Another really good read is our Climate Change Assessment.

Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on Apr 27, 2021

For too many investor-owned utilities, it would be an innovation to think of customers as something other than money sources whose opinions can be ignored as long as the utilities' relationships with regulators and lawmakers are good. Ethics aside, the problem with that strategy is it leaves utilities that try to follow it with few good alternatives if it fails.

For proof, look to Maine where the unpopularity of Central Maine Power and Versant Popularity has led to a bipartisan effort by the state's lawmakers to create a consumer-owned nonprofit utility called Pine Tree Power that would buy them both out.

In California, meanwhile, the Public Utilities Commission is so unhappy with PG&E Corporation's fire safety efforts that it has initiated a process that could wind up with the utility being taken over by the state.

And last summer in Connecticut, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal suggested breaking up Eversource after that utility's dismal response to Tropical Storm Isaias last summer.

So, although I think investor-owned utilities need to create a culture that rewards innovation, I think it's more important that they create a culture that prioritizes their customers.

Otherwise, more people may decide that publicly owned utilities are an innovation whose time has come.

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on May 7, 2021

No doubt that utilities do not live in a vacuum. Recent technical advances, like cloud and mobile, have made customer interactions simpler and richer. As you noted, utilities will need to match such capabilities or risk alienating their most value asset, their customers.

Jody Allison's picture
Jody Allison on May 7, 2021

Couldn't agree more. Expectations continue to rise and we need to have a clear path for our journey driven by our customers voice. No time to wait. Thanks for your comments!

Rami Reshef's picture
Rami Reshef on May 20, 2021

Not an easy job to be VP of Transformation for a leading utility during such volatile times when utilities need to maximize resiliency and invest in grid modernization while minimizing costs to customers; ensure reliable, continuous power while diversifying generation resources and increasing the ratio of renewables; provide expanded digital grid services and data to consumers while decentralizing the business model and engaging with an increasingly complex mix of partners and customers. Interesting to watch this space and learn from you how utilities will manage to balance their different and sometimes conflicting priorities, leverage technologies to effect change and successfully build the utility of tomorrow so as to withstand climate crisis and empower our clean energy future! Full Steam Ahead!!!

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